British kids as young as 3 think they’re ‘fat & ugly,’ survey reveals

© Suzanne Plunkett
Children as young as three are showing signs of body image issues, such as rejecting food because they worry it will make them “fat,” a survey of childcare professionals has revealed.

The research, conducted by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), indicates that children start worrying about their weight as early as preschool. Nearly a third of childcare workers reported they have heard a child call themselves fat.

Meanwhile, one in five childcare professionals reported having seen children reject food over worries it will make them “fat.”

Ten percent of nursery and schoolteachers had heard children say that they felt ugly.

The research indicates body image issues are now affecting children at a younger age.

However, PACEY found the figures almost double as children grow older. Some 47 percent of childcarers witnessed anxieties about body image in children aged six to 10 years of age, the research shows.

Dr Jacqueline Harding, an adviser to PACEY and child development expert, said: “By the age of three or four some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds – and even hold strong views – about how bodies should look.”

“There is also research evidence to suggest that some four-year-olds are aware of strategies as to how to lose weight.”

PACEY chief executive Liz Bayram said the group is “shocked” by the number of young children concerned about body image and called for “greater training and guidance” to promote positive body image among children.

“We were shocked that so many early years practitioners are observing body image issues amongst the very young children in their care and recognize that more needs to be done to support practitioners to address these issues,” she said.

The majority of the 361 childcare practitioners surveyed by the group believe parents and peers have the biggest influence on children’s views on their bodies.

Some 37 percent believe body image issues stem from peer groups, while 32 percent cited parents. Another 25 percent blamed the media for fueling a body-obsessed culture.